On the surface, Twine is about making games. But that is just one way of looking at it. To be more specific, Twine software allows one to hyperlink from one page or another through the click of a word. Words link together different pages and, ultimately, different ideas. Now, take that bare-bones concept and link together not only Twine narratives, but short stories and real time events. Essentially, in doing so, you would be creating a reality from multimedia.
Someone at the Toronto Global Game Jam made this suggestion to me after I showed him the Twine game I made at that particular event. However, what he didn’t realize is that others have already thought of this idea, and have utilized it.
In creating Darkmoon City, Katrina Elisse Caudle is one of these people.
I am not entirely sure how I found Darkmoon City, back when it was called Faerie Dark and focused more on its own content and less on outside activities. Katrina’s site itself has evolved quite a bit. At one time it was a textured grey interface in which you had to input the names of the Twines or stories that you wanted to see in a search bar. It was arranged in such a way that inputting the title of the work was a lot like participating in an agreed-upon ritual or the casting of a particular spell or evocation that would interact with the world of words and code that Katrina embedded into that world. I will admit that sometimes it confused me and it was hard to search for what I wanted back then. I even had the odd error or two. But, eventually, I “said” the words and found a part of her world.
At the time, there was only one Twine game: one interactive hyperlinking story. It was, and is The Edyn Project. I played this game during a time when I was still beginning to figure out how Twine games worked and attempted to see the different kinds and qualities of such that existed. Essentially, you find yourself in the White City: the former seat of arcane learning before the plague that wiped magic, and a good portion of the global population, off the face of the earth. The Edyn Project is an attempt by various powers to utilize technology in order to create a utopia from a Dark Age.
It was here that I began to see a different world-view emerging: especially with regards to how the White City’s new bitcoin economy is supposed to function. To this day I’m still confused about bitcoin, but the game did succeed in introducing me to the layout of the City and some of its history: including the presence of an ambiguous artificial intelligence program guardian named Edyn. I didn’t know, then, that the game wasn’t completed yet and indeed I reached a point where I didn’t know what else to do and got caught in a looped event at one point when going back to deal with my character’s blood work.
I really got to know the world of the White City through its short stories. Liminal Creatures of Heaven depicted something of a creation mythos and a different cosmogony from that of our own solar system. It even has its own astrological charts and celestial cycles.
But it wasn’t until The City With No Animals that the spirit of what would become Darkmoon City really began to slowly and subtly set into my mind.
Imagine a world where animals no longer exist: to the point of them becoming legends and myth. Now imagine a world where homosexual, bisexual, queer and polyamorous relationships are not only seen as commonplace but as part of an unquestioned norm. Then consider a place where there are more than two kinds of gender, where people can alter themselves in an almost transhuman sense, all of this is an ingrained and understood part of that world as well. The pronouns of he, she, and they are simply there in sentence and conversation. Now add to the fact that magic once existed and is in the process of being replaced (or complemented) by science and technology of questionable nature and a new bitcoin economy while the vestiges of the supernatural remain as ghosts, and faeries, and other things.
Now imagine writing this world with characters that experience varying degrees of emotions while exploring old and new secrets, and each other. You would basically be creating a whole other kind of paradigm or mentality from our own world. Katrina basically does all of this. It takes some getting used to and sometimes there is even still a bit of culture shock, but once you watch the characters’ interactions with the world and each other you begin to focus on them a lot. What I really loved about “The City With No Animals” is the fact that Katrina captures well that feeling of sweet confusion when you are discovered by those you know are special and could be, or might not lovers even as she also depicts the warmth of intimacy between childhood friends. “The City With No Animals” is a long story of four-parts, it has a unique writing style, and it is definitely worth reading.
I said a whole lot of other things about this story to Katrina herself, but unfortunately much of this correspondence was lost and now I can only focus on my impressions of what I read from that time. Indeed, Katrina changed the layout and name of the site from Faerie Dark to Darkmoon City. I’m not sure if she reloaded all of the older stories that I can’t recall, but she did add some newer elements to the new layout that she has created.
In addition to another interactive Twine called Happy Birthday Smoke!–in which you play as a character from “The Edyn Project” who is discovering her uncle’s creation of bitcoin and thus giving you a tutorial into what it is for the very first time–there are the addition of more creation myths and legends in the form of new stories.
I mentioned earlier that Katrina has a very unique writing style. I think what really stands out for me is in addition to a world with different ideas of gender, economy, science and magic, there is this very fascinating blend of Far East Asian and ancient Western culture, philosophy and mythology that exists in her overarching, and interlinking, narrative. If each world of fantasy and science-fiction is part of a multifaceted lens looking at an alternative perspective of reality, then Katrina’s world of Darkmoon City feels like a pale violet-tinted part of the cosmological kaleidoscope. Her language and sense of pacing are languid, flowing, and beautiful: and they put you into an “alien” and external mindset intimately and to the point where you realize it may not be that dissimilar from your own.
There is one more thing I want to mention before I wrap this retrospective up. A little while ago, while Faerie Dark existed, Katrina had another Twine game called Chrysalis. There were a few interesting elements about this game. First of all, and as far as I know, it was the only game that required payment: the small amount of $2.99. Secondly, it was a Twine that incorporated images and audio into its structure. But the third and most important element that I want to look at is what the about was about.
Essentially, Chrysalis was a Twine game in which you visit a courtesan named Rabbit. Its premise is almost an answer to the questions that the Canadian comics creator Chester Brown seems to pose in his graphic novel Paying For It: what kind of world would result from the creation of a society without the stigma of paying for sex, or even on non-conventional relationships? What kind of morality would exist where an exchange of services for intimacy and learning is condoned, honoured, and even encouraged as healthy?
You had to progress by learning various lessons through interaction with Rabbit. Should you have not been interested or wanted to skip ahead, you were always invited to leave if the terms no longer suited you, or if you could not follow or respect them. I didn’t always understand the astrological elements within the game itself which, may or may not have made Chrysalis into part of Faerie Dark (or Darkmoon City now) or as a standalone in and of itself. Sometimes the audio did not work and it did verge into some specific areas of sacred sex and spirituality. Sometimes the audio segments seemed long as well. But what really struck me about that game, aside from being a creative attempt to depict a different form of society where sex work is an inherent part of the culture and you learn about intimacy, sensuality and just what constitutes as an important exchange between consenting adults, as well as navigating the places between different emotions and a process of personal growth, is how Katrina applied her own experiences and the paradigm of her creative world, and bitcoin, to the scenario of Chrysalis.
It was not an explicit game, but it was definitely a very involved and thoughtful meditation on pleasure. Sadly, my words aren’t doing this game any justice as I can no longer access this game. It came in the form of a code I purchased for Faerie Dark‘s search bar that now no longer exists. All that is left are Katrina’s above account and ethereal fragments of audio to give you some idea of what this game was like. But it, and the other stories, were an excellent look into the creative mind and imagination of Katrina and what could be.
Darkmoon City is still very much a work in progress, with its own Patreon page, and as a fellow traveller into the realms of fancy, I look forward to walking where the White City journeys from this particular foundation.